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History Headlines: History in Fashion

March 17, 2009 • History Factory

Salvatore Ferragamo CEO Michele Norsa believes that history will bring the Italian fashion house through the recession. But what about the sharp decrease in discretionary spending? And the fact that Burberry, Tiffany, Coach, Bulgari, and a range of other high-end brands have reported decreased sales, job cuts, and low expectations for 2009? Doesn’t Michele Norsa watch the news?

Maybe it’s the stone he carries around for good luck. Or maybe he understands that brands with history—and, more importantly, that use their history—may not be doomed to repeat it. By keeping the strategies that originally brought them success and retooling those that failed, longtime brands can emerge from negative cycles stronger than they were. We’ve helped a number of apparel clients make that leap.

That’s good news for Ferragamo, which didn’t fare so well during the Great Depression. The 1929 Wall Street crash left Salvatore Ferragamo (the man) with nothing but his knowledge of shoes—and the business lessons he had learned. One of those lessons was not to borrow money. As he quickly learned when the Depression hit, the financiers who funded his 1920s expansion into America didn’t share his business goals.

Those corporate memories and a history of quality might help Ferragamo pull through. But in a one-two punch to the founder’s gut, the company hired Norsa in 2006—the first non–family member to run Ferragamo—and is preparing for an IPO (though that’s been delayed).

Learning from history does not mean stalling growth. But can Norsa hold on to the important parts of the company’s history despite its abandonment of its founder’s privately owned and managed mantra? History will decide. Until then, Norsa, just keep rubbing that stone.


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